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Chairman Nadler Opening Statement for Oversight Hearing on Trump Administration's Family Separation Policy

Washington, February 26, 2019
Washington, D.C. –Today, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement, as prepared, during an oversight hearing examining the Trump Administration's family separation policy, the first formal hearing held by the Committee on this disastrous policy:

"Two years into the Trump Administration’s wide array of dramatic and damaging immigration policy changes, it is unbelievable that so much harm has occurred to so many people with so little congressional oversight. That ends with this new Congress.

"In our first immigration-related hearing this Congress, the Judiciary Committee will finally hold this Administration accountable for its indefensible and repugnant family-separation policy, and for the injuries it has inflicted on thousands of children and families.

"Even now, months after the height of the crisis created by the Administration’s implementation of its cruel and inhumane anti-immigrant policies, basic questions remain unanswered. In part, that is because the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security have, until last night, stonewalled the legitimate requests for information by this Committee that were made over 6 weeks ago.

"Although we have received several document productions by the Department of Health and Human Services, we only received our first document productions of under 100 pages each last night from DOJ and DHS. That is absolutely inexcusable.

"I expect these agencies to comply with our requests, and I expect the witnesses to be prepared to answer all of our questions today, starting with four fundamental ones:

"First—why did this Administration think that seizing children from the arms of their parents was acceptable policy? Second—who was responsible for developing and implementing the family separation policy? Third—what are you doing to reunify all of the families you separated? And fourth—what plans are in place to repair the traumatizing damage to children and families caused by their actions?

"As part of this policy, the Department of Homeland Security apprehended thousands of families crossing our Southern border—many of them fleeing for their lives—and tore children away from their parents seemingly for no reason other than to deter people from seeking the protection our country has historically provided to those in need. And the Department did so in such a reckless and callous way that it failed even to capture sufficient information to identify which child belonged to which parent.

"When a stranger rips a child from a parent’s arms without any plan to reunify them, it is called kidnapping. This Administration is responsible for the harm suffered by thousands of children and their parents, and it must be held accountable.

"That is why we must have a full accounting of which officials were responsible for directing and planning this shameful policy. Not only was the family separation policy abhorrent, the Administration was either incompetent, or grossly negligent, in its implementation—which only compounded the trauma inflicted on these innocent children.

"It is now apparent that none of the agencies present here today were ready to implement this policy. According to reports from the DHS Inspector General, the Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General, and the Government Accountability Office, your agencies failed to take the basic and necessary steps to prepare for and implement the family separation policy.

"For example, the DHS Inspector General found that the Department "struggled to identify, track, and reunite families," and that it caused confusion by providing "inconsistent information" to separated families. The GAO reported that DHS and HHS frontline staff were not aware of their roles in family separation until then-Attorney General Sessions announced the policy in an April 2018 speech.

"This utter lack of preparation is indefensible on its own. But it is particularly appalling given the fact that DHS and the Justice Department had already conducted a 5-month pilot program involving family separation in the El Paso Sector. How is it remotely possible that after quietly conducting this family separation program for 5 months, the agencies at this hearing did not recognize the obvious need for critical officer training, a system for tracking families, or a plan for eventual reunification? The failure to take these steps as the program was expanded demonstrates an indifference to human suffering that shocks the conscience.

"Lastly, I expect our witnesses to tell us what they are currently doing to repair the untold harm their agencies inflicted on these children and their families. The American Association of Pediatrics has stated that, “highly stressful experiences, like family separation, can cause irreparable harm, disrupting a child’s brain architecture and affecting his or her short- and long-term health… and can carry lifelong consequences for children.” So I must ask, who in your respective agencies are now monitoring and addressing the medical and psychological needs of separated children, both during custody and after being reunified with their families?

"Incredibly, the Health and Human Services Inspector General reported last January that "thousands" more children may have been forcibly separated from their parents or legal guardians than the Administration had previously acknowledged. In fact, the actual number is still unknown. Even worse, the government has neither attempted nor intends to reunify these unaccounted-for children with their parents—because, they say, it would just be too complicated and burdensome.

"While there may be some logistical challenges and jurisdictional questions as to how that should happen, there is absolutely no justification to not even try to reunify a child with his or her parent.

"It is simply unacceptable to allow anyone who inflicted such traumatic damage to these families to sidestep responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

"We as a nation can and must do better. I expect that the witnesses will all be prepared to answer fully and clearly how this disastrous and unconscionable policy was developed and implemented, and how their agencies intend to repair the damage they caused.

"I look forward to discussing these issues and more with our panel, and I now yield to the distinguished Ranking Member of the Committee, the Gentleman from Georgia, Mr. Collins."

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